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All in the Family

Moët Hennessy’s wine estates are a quite delectable if unusual collection.  Unusual in that haven’t been assembled – as most such collections have – with each new piece chosen to fill a perceived price, or taste or regional need.  Nor do they showcase a shared strength in a particular category.


Rather, they remind me of a large, energetic family that comes into a restaurant for a Sunday brunch – not a lot of genetic resemblance but instead evidencing multiple cultures, differing but compatible personalities, in various stages of maturation.  Perhaps a blended family, one thinks, some of his, some of hers, perhaps some of theirs and an adoption or two.  Intelligent, well-behaved, each with her or his own spark.


I’ve been fortunate to know this Moët Hennessy family for some time now, having had quite interesting visits to their homes as well as to the homes of their cousins in Champagne.  So it was almost like homecoming for me to meet them again on tour last week at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York.


I know I should have saved saying hello to Numanthia until last, with its combination of strength, elegance and complexity.  But it has always been a favorite among favorites with its old-vine Tinta de Toro wines, even before it became part of the family.  A good argument can be made that, in its variations on a theme, Numanthia is the foremost Spanish red wine estate, an argument that I do make from time to time.


Then there are the California twins, the Chandon still wines and the Domaine Chandon sparklers.  I practically grew up with them, having visited the pioneering estate, the first Champagne venture in California, soon after it opened in 1973. A highlight of any Napa trip is sitting under the trees outside the winery, sampling a variety of sparklers with lunch or dinner.  The table wine part continues to grow and mature in its exploration of Burgundy grapes as well as Cabernet.  I also remember when brother Newton up the road was being carved out of a Spring Mountain hillside under a different owner and, briefly, with a different name.  Now Newton fascinates with its naturalism-meets-modernism philosophy.


The Argentine properties, Terrazas de los Andes and Cheval des Andes, are also like twins in their sharing, and a visit there seems like an adventure in living in different centuries at the same time – ultramodern in concept and execution, yet with a 19th Century romanticism that is quintessential Mendoza magic.


Farther south, we come at last to Cape Mentelle of Australia and Cloudy Bay of New Zealand.  I know Cape Mentelle the least, but I have the feeling that this western property is the sibling still trying to find its place, the quiet one that bears watching.  And finally how fitting to come to Cloudy Bay, where I spent a few days last spring as part of their Provenance project.  In addition to making great wines and being a true New Zealand pioneer, I don’t think I’ve been to a winery that has a more-gregarious and yet diverse team of people.  In some ways, they mirror the makeup of the total Moët Hennessy collection.


I’ll admit that I chatted with the winemakers as much as I drank, and I took woefully inept notes on the wines.  I just got caught up in the family spirit.

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